When Catholics Become a Peace Church
By Deacon James Rauner and Pax Christi Michigan
28 August, 2014
In October, Pax Christi will buy a full-page ad
in the National Catholic Reporter prior to the annual meeting of the U.S. bishops. The ad will advocate abandoning the idea of a "just war," something
the Catholic church, including in recent statements by the current Pope, shows signs of possibly being willing to do.
James Rauner's article below reports how the Catholic church outside of the United States has opposed past wars, and
suggests how little it would take to move the church in the U.S. to the same position. But opposing particular wars as
"unjust," and suggesting that there might be just ones, leaves the war industry in place, making new wars inevitable.
Pax Christi is to be applauded for urging the church to drop that outdated way of thinking, as the current Pope's
statements suggest he already has. —DCNS
The Ides of War, March, 2003 …
In 2003, weeks before the attack, Pope John Paul II warned President Bush that his “preemptive war” on Iraq would throw
the Middle East into chaos, that this war would be a “defeat for humanity which could not be morally or legally
On March 5, 2003, Pope John Paul II sent the Italian Cardinal, Pio Laghi, to intervene with President George W. Bush and
ask him not to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, but the US leader rejected the appeal claiming he was
“convinced it was God’s will”.
The pope had already referred to this planned military intervention as an “adventure” and had warned that war would have
serious consequences for both nations and the world. The pope had chosen Laghi for this delicate mission, because he was
a friend of the Bush family and might have stood a better chance of being listened to.
The day before the scheduled meeting with the President, the cardinal was asked to meet with officials from the US State
Department, as the President wanted to know the agenda of the meeting in advance. Cardinal Laghi was “interrogated” by
the National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice.
When the Cardinal arrived at the meeting with the President the next day, he handed Pope John Paul II’s letter to the
immediately put it on a side table without opening or reading it.”
The President then launched into an argument for war,. He told the cardinal that he, the president, “was convinced it
was God’s will”, and sought to convince the papal envoy that it was the right thing to do.
“After a few minutes of what the Cardinal termed ‘a sermon’”, Laghi interrupted President Bush and said, “Mr. President,
I came here in order to speak to you and to give you a message from the Holy Father and I would like you to listen to
Cardinal Laghi told Bush that three things would happen if the United States went to war. First, it would cause many
deaths and injuries on both sides. Secondly, it would result in civil war. And, thirdly, the United States might know
how to get into a war, but it would have great difficulty getting out of one.
Cardinal Laghi realized from this exchange that the President had already made up his mind. This was confirmed shortly
afterwards by General Pace, as he accompanied the Cardinal to his car. He shook hands with the Cardinal and told him,
“Your Eminence, don’t be afraid. We’ll do it quickly and we will do it in the best way.”
Laghi knew his mission had failed, but he also realized that the Bush administration was very naïve about the
consequences of war.
The press corps was waiting outside the White House after the meeting to interview the cardinal, but administration
officials did not allow him to speak to them at the White House.
In the weeks and months before the U.S. attacked Iraq, not only the Holy Father, but also many in the Vatican spoke out
against a “preemptive” or “preventative” strike. They declared that the just war theory could not justify such a war.
also spoke out against war in Iraq. Archbishop Renato Raffaele Martino
, a former U.N. envoy and current prefect of the Council for Justice and Peace, told reporters that war against Iraq was
a preventive war
and constituted a "war of aggression", and thus did not constitute a just war. The foreign minister, Archbishop
Jean-Louis Tauran, said that such a war of aggression is a crime against peace.
On September 13, 2002, US Catholic bishops had signed a letter to President Bush stating that any "preemptive,
unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq" could not be justified at the time. They came to
this position by evaluating whether an attack against Iraq would satisfy the criteria for a just war
as defined by Catholic theology.
War against Iraq is Unjust Illegal Immoral
John Paul II
So what happened
On 15 February 2003, a month before the invasion, there were worldwide protests against the Iraq War
, including a rally of three million people in Rome, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records
as the largest ever anti-war
rally. According to the French academic Dominique Reynié
, between 3 January and 12 April 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the
Americans, and of course American Catholics, were largely unaware of the depth and importance of the opposition of
Church leaders everywhere to an attack on Iraq, since for the most part the mainstream American media did not carry
these stories. In the same way, many Americans were unaware that Pope John Paul II had spoken out against the first Gulf
War at least 56 times. Media in the United States, controlled by corporate, government biased owners, omitted this from
news commentaries on these wars.
We go to war ...
The invasion was preceded by an air strike
on the Presidential Palace in Baghdad on 19 March 2003. The following day, coalition forces launched an incursion into Basra Province
from their massing point close to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border.
While the Special Forces launched an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf
to secure Basra
and the surrounding petroleum fields, the main invasion army moved into southern Iraq, occupying the region and
engaging in the Battle of Nasiriyah
on 23 March. Massive air strikes across the country and against Iraqi command and control threw the defending army into
chaos and prevented an effective resistance. On 26 March, the 173rd Airborne Brigade
near the northern city of Kirkuk
, where they joined forces with Kurdish
rebels and fought several actions against the Iraqi army
to secure the northern part of the country.
As the Bombs fell, … American Opposition became Silent…
“Son of man, Can these Bones Come to Life ?” Ezekiel 37:1-14
But, what if…
Following the solitary example of Bishop John Michael Botean, who had, on March 7th, just twelve days before the Iraq
invasion, issued a Pastoral Letter to his U.S. diocese morally denouncing the War on Iraq as gravely evil,…
…. Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the USCCB, decides to call an emergency meeting of the entire American Catholic
He had been powerfully moved by the strong words of Bishop Botean’s Pastoral Letter:
“When a moral conflict arises between Church teaching and secular morality, when contradictory moral demands are made
upon a Catholic’s conscience, he or she, ‘must obey God rather than man’ (Acts 5:29).”
“A moment of moral crisis has arisen for us, I must now speak to you as your bishop… with the authority and
responsibility I, though a sinner, have been given as a successor to the apostles on your behalf…. It is a moral
imperative that I not allow you, by my silence, to fall into grave evil.”
“I must declare to you my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and
support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable
doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and the Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I say to you it
does not meet even the minimal standards of the catholic just war theory.”
Noticing that Botean was the first and only Bishop to yet speak out against the war, in support of the Pope’s urgent
message, Bishop Gregory, as president, began calling all American bishops to a special session of the USCCB, to start
the evening of Sunday, March 16th .
In doing so, Bishop Gregory believes it is necessary for the American Catholic church to reinforce the message sent to
President Bush by Pope John Paul II….
When he consults with Bishop Skylstad, vice-president of the USCCB, Skylstad becomes very alarmed at the possibility of
confronting the government. He tells Gregory that he has too much on his plate, that he has just had some real success
with issuing “The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in his efforts to gain control of the scandal
of the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases. Now wasn’t the time to anger both the public and the government.
Bishop Gregory knew there was great danger, and he saw that he had two obstacles to overcome. First, the conference
itself would have to unite the bishops in support of the papal initiative, and in giving up their usual strategy of
always proving Catholics were faithful and patriotic citizens no matter what. But then that would create the second
difficulty. They would have to explain to American Catholics why there had been no teaching preparing them for something
like this beforehand.
Gregory thought of the passage he had read recently from Richard Rohr:
"We are saddled and bridled with a religion that is not sure if it wants to become church. It’s adherent’s expectations
are very set. … It is a comfortable and very materialistic religion, which tests it’s people’s commitment on the level
of doctrine but is afraid to test that commitment on issues of lifestyle or mature conscience.” —Near Occasions of
Grace, page 52.
Tensions and grumbling mounts within the church as its bishops prepare to travel to the emergency meeting. The
Archbishop of the Military Vicarate, Edwin O’Brien, starts objecting loudly to the possibility of confronting his
… Speculation abounds…..
Some are estimating that if the church were to confront the government over this war, as many as 20% of Catholics might
leave the church, and certainly the church, in parishes, dioceses, and organizations, would lose at least half of its
income from collections and rich donors. One smart-alec suggested that it might solve the priest shortage,… if not too
many of them left !
On Sunday evening, March 16th … the USCCB gathered in closed session. The question being put before the bishops was this: Should we, the Catholic Hierarchy of the United States, support the teaching of
Pope John Paul II that a preventative war against Iraq is immoral, illegal and unjust, and should we teach our Catholic
people to resist this war and refuse to serve in it? Or, should we simply be silent and do nothing, as we have always
done during wartime? While the meeting is ‘completely closeted’, word does leak out in dribbles here and there. There
seems to be a terrible argument going on, back and forth. Some want to be faithful to the pope, many are reluctant. Some
are angry, many are scared.
Bishop Botean had said: “the Gospels reveal our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ to be nonviolent. In them, Jesus
teaches a Way of life that his disciples are to follow, a Way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies”…. “All well and
good, but it’s not practical!”... “All the recent popes have said the same thing!” … “But It doesn’t work. We’ll lose
“It’s our sacred and patriotic duty to sacrifice our children to defend our American life styles.”
“Any killing associated with this war is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally murder. Direct participation in
this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in abortion”……”We have a moral obligation to overthrow the
vicious and evil regime of Saddam, the tyrant”…Time passes,… Monday …and then …Tuesday, … the arguments go back and
forth until finally on Wednesday morning, the feeling is they can’t move any further …
It’s time to take a vote:… 79 % of the bishops vote in support of the Papal teaching, …14 % of the bishops dissociate
themselves from the USCCB and walk out in protest… The holy Spirit has spoken through the majority,… we Catholics are
now a church of Peace, and will try to dissuade President Bush from going to war.
Efforts are made all day long to get through to President Bush in the White House, but he is taking no calls from the
American bishops, as he took no heed of the Pope himself.
By now, it’s the evening of March 19, 2003, President Bush is in the White House enjoying the evening with Rev Billy
Graham, who prays that our American bombs may find their targets and destroy our enemies.
Before the USCCB meeting ends…
Special Peace and Justice committees are set up to determine what steps to take to implement the decision taken. It will
be a multiple step process. It is a difficult time for the church in the United States. They begin listing what steps
are needed and what organizing will be useful.
This is a good place to PAUSE….
The story so far sets up the possibility of the Catholic Bishops actually showing some GUTS, like the early church
martyrs. What happens next will depend on your own vision and imagination, please follow the inspiration of the Spirit,
as you are given.
The remaining paragraphs are just the “vision” of Jim Rauner. Now it’s your turn…
Please RESUME your story.
Efforts are made to reach out to Justice and Peace organizations within the church for help, … representatives of Pax
Christi , Pace e Bene, Kroc Institutes, etc., and even the Knights of Columbus, our best organized and financed lay
organization, were called in… if only the 4th degree would lay down their swords, and severe their Supreme Knight’s ties
with the Republican Party.
(1) A committee of reconciliation sets to work with the 14% of bishops who walked out.
(2) A committee is set up to review and update the Pastoral letter on War: 1983 -“The Challenge of Peace” originally
planned to be ambiguous, and now outdated by advances in catholic thinking and Papal teaching about war since that time.
(3) The Gospel teaching of nonviolence, and how “just war” theories are like “just abortion” theories will be taught in
all parishes and pulpits in the country.
(4) Conscientious Objector counseling is set up in all dioceses and support offered for all Catholics confronted with
situations of legal jeopardy due to their need to be C.O.s to this war.
(5) State Catholic Conferences begin lobbying Senators and Representatives explaining why the church will no longer
support war… We begin to feel a chill in Church-State relationships!
(6) Homilists are beginning to explain to our congregations what it was like during the primitive church’s ‘communities
of resistance’ to the Roman Empire, and how this is now similar to our Catholic parishes within the American Empire.
(7) We begin prayer and study groups in parishes to teach contemplation and help live in intimate union with Jesus, and
follow his teachings to love one another, friends and enemies, learning forgiveness as we have been forgiven.
(8) Our efforts to support justice for immigrants and refugees is radicalized, we begin offering sanctuary for them and
other minority group- victims in our society, opening our churches and communities across the country.
(9) Our jail/prison ministries protest inhumane conditions and practices, demand closing of ICE prisons, and release of
millions of people, especially racial minorities, held for minor drug and non-violent crimes
(10) Most catholic parishes stop flying American flags as a counter cultural practice. Jesus is our commander-in-chief,
not the president.
(11) 4th degree Knights of Columbus decide to no longer use their swords during church services, and hide them away in
closets. A big revue and reorganization is going on with the 4th degree political/ patriotic level.
(12) Bishops' meetings begin discussing the ways of “critical collaboration” in working with the government – supporting
efforts that benefit the common good, opposing legislation that harms the common good.
(13) Training in techniques of nonviolent Protest, Resistance, and Alternative Structures are offered in all dioceses,
and these actions are used to enforce critical collaboration, and to offer a new means of nonviolent national defense.
(14) Movements are supported by the church, working with other religious, and non-religious groups, with Occupy citizen
groups, and even international organizations to bring about the Kingdom of God, “on earth as it is in heaven”: Justice
and Peace for all.
(15) Movements that would:
A. Create a just foreign policy. Cessation of all foreign military aid, outlaw all arms trade. Increase foreign peaceful
aid and sharing by 10% each following year.. Strengthen the United Nations, and the World Court.
B. Dismantle the military-industrial complex, converting our industry to alternative energy and peaceful purposes. Start
reducing our “Defense” spending by 20% for each following year. Invest this money in the Department of Peace. Close down
the CIA, and department of Homeland Security
C. Take all private money out of the political election system, let all primary elections be open to everyone. Redraw
all one party districts.
D. Corporations are not people – take away all rights of free speech or religious liberty. Severely limit corporations’
size and power, make them subject to the cost of their use of public commons and their damage to the environment.
E. Diocesan and parish action committees begin supporting citizen organizing to protest economic injustice, class
warfare by the rich against workers, and to promote labor unions for everyone, and public banks.
F. These committees encourage the creation of a New Economic Bill of Rights.
a. Set Taxation of the rich back to the 1950’s. No one needs more than ‘enough’ to live well. Confiscatory inheritance
tax of all but modest amount – a year’s average wage.
b. Free education for all capable students through college and professional universities / with social responsibilities
c. Free and complete, single payer, Health Care for every person in the country, even visitors.
d. Minimum wages of $15 / hour indexed for inflation.
e. Guaranteed Job for every person able to work.
f. Guaranteed Income for every person unable to work.
(16) The church throws itself into supporting the Franciscan efforts to protect God’s creation, to save the environment
and prevent catastrophic climate change.
... Well, you can see how easily I can go on, and on … I’d like to stop now …..And turn it over to you…… Why don’t you play with these ideas for awhile, and see what good things the Spirit leads you to….. Please let me
know what you do come up with…. thank you,
Today, back in October, of the year 2014,
We members of Pax Christi are calling on
“the US Catholic church to embrace nonviolence as the only stance consistent with Christian discipleship and to reject
the just war tradition, as expressed, among other places, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2309). The just war theory is unChristian and obsolete… We urge our Church to return to its roots, as a power for
peace, before it allied itself with the power of empire in the time of Constantine….”
“Clearly, it is time to embrace and reaffirm our primary tradition of just peace. Our Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion
adherents worldwide and 22% of the US population, is ideally positioned to support peacebuilding, and avert what Pope
Francis calls ‘the suicide of humanity.’”
“Do we expect it to be easy? No indeed. But we are a people of hope. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The arc of the
moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ We invite our Church to lend its prophetic voice to the abolition
of war and the promotion of the way of just peace.”